Punt’s ports were probably in Eritrea, Archaeologist Kathryn Bard

3,300-Year-Old Baboon Skull May Tease a Fabled Land

Archaeologists have discovered that a 3,300-year-old baboon skull may tease a fabled land said to have been visited often by Egyptians, according to a report from ScienceMag.

This fabled land is known as Punt, or “God’s Land,” and according to hieroglyphics, is a land first visited by Egyptians 4500 years ago. Egyptians continued to visit Punt for more than 1000 years, bringing back goods like hardwoods, metals, resins, and exotic animals — like baboons — but until now, archaeologists didn’t have evidence that these goods ever made their way back to Egypt.

“It’s an extremely important step in better understanding this mysterious land that we still don’t fully grasp,” American Center of Oriental Research archaeologist, Pearce Paul Creasman, said.

The skull in question belongs to that of a hamadryas baboon and dates back to 3,300 years ago. It was discovered by archaeologists in the 19th century in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, according to Science Mag, and it was stored away in the British Museum. Dartmouth College primatologist, Nathaniel Dominy, recently discovered this skull archived at the museum and it might be the hard evidence archaeologists have been looking for to prove the existence of Punt.

Egyptians saw hamadryas baboons as the embodiment of Thoth, a god of wisdom, and connected the baboons to Amun-Ra, which is the Egyptian sun god. One of the reasons scientists believe this baboon skull to be from Punt is because the hamadryas baboon is not native to Egypt, meaning whoever had the skull in Thebes 3,300 years ago obtained the primate, or at least its skull, from somewhere else.

Dominy and his team studied chemical isotopes in the skull’s tooth enamel for clues of the baboon’s birthplace because a region’s soil and water has a distinct ratio of strontium isotopes, which are locked into the enamel in the first few years of a baboon’s life. This is key because even if an animal like the baboon in question was moved from its birthplace, the isotope signature of its birthplace would still be present in the tooth enamel.

The strontium ratio in the skull’s enamel confirms that the baboon was not born in Egypt and instead provides evidence for somewhere in modern-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, or northwest Somalia, as the birthplace of this primate, according to Dominy and his team’s report on eLife.

That region of the world is where most archaeologists think Punt was located, according to ScienceMag, and this skull implies that this baboon is one of the exotic animals Egyptian hieroglyphics talk about coming from Punt. Boston University archaeologist, Kathryn Bard, told ScienceMag that she believes Punt’s ports were probably in Eritrea or along the coast of eastern Sudan. Bard believes this because she and late archaeologist, Rodolfo Fattovich, excavated a site on Egypt’s Red Sea coast from 2001 to 2011 and discovered a 2,800-year-old stone inscription documenting a voyage to Punt.

They also discovered pottery fragments similar to those found in the Sudanese-Eritrean lowlands, presumably from Punt, ScienceMag says. Bard says this 3,300-year-old baboon skull provides “another piece of evidence on where Punt was located,” although she says it’s not the first Puntite treasure as her excavation with Fattovich uncovered obsidian and ebony she believes to be from Punt.

Dominy argues that might not be the case due to the wide distribution of ebony across Africa in the continent’s history. Someone should ask famed assassin, Bayek of Siwa, if he knows anything of Punt in the meantime.

If you’re looking for a way to explore ancient Egypt, check out Assassin’s Creed Origins, which features Bayek, and is a game IGN called amazing in its 9 out of 10 review. For more science, read about how Punt, baboon skulls, and Assassin’s Creed might not even matter because some scientists believe there’s a 50-50 chance we live in a simulation. Check out this story about how we all might evolve into crabs one day after that.